If you’re in Jacksonville and you want to impress your date, take them to Salt at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. It’s one of only three AAA Five Diamond restaurants in Florida. The beach views are unmatched and the food at Salt is extraordinary. I sat down with Executive Chef Richard Laughlin to talk about everything food.
What made you want to be a chef? Was it your parents’ cooking? A dish you had? Somewhere you worked?
It was totally my parents’ cooking. Especially my mom. She was always throwing down in the kitchen.
What was the defining moment when you knew you wanted to be a chef?
It was a Friday, and I was trying to make it through a two hour lecture about Early Modern European History. I just couldn’t take another pointless class. After three years of college, I had enough. After class, I went home and I applied to Culinary School in Arizona.
Why should people eat at Salt?
The food is fun, very creative, refined and flavorful without being pretentious. The service is impeccable, personalized, and we have the best view on the island. We change our four-course tasting menu every day, which excites my team and our guests. Our a la carte menu changes every season while keeping a few signature dishes. So every time you come to Salt, it’s a totally different experience—never dated.
Tell me about the new menu.
The spring menu is all about light flavors while showcasing local produce coming into season. I wanted to show the versatility of each ingredient while maximizing flavor.
What is your favorite dish on the new menu and why?
My favorite is our pork cheek appetizer. It’s everything I love to eat in the south and more: braised pork cheeks with a succotash of pancetta, zellwood corn, morel mushrooms, madeira wine, corn puree, breaded and deep fried pimento cheese topped with pepper jam. The pork cheek is topped with a bread butter pickle relish, finally finished with BBQ pork rinds and micro mustard greens. This dish has layers of love. If you’re a foodie, then this is a must-have.
You’re so driven. What keeps you motivated?
My parents gave me my foundation growing up: my father was a Marine and instilled discipline and work ethic, while my mother instilled perfection and creativity. With those qualities I excelled in every kitchen I worked in. But passion is something I developed while working here at The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island. Passion fuels me and keeps me motivated.
You just received the 5 Diamond award. What does that mean for you?
Being AAA Five Diamond six years in a row is an amazing achievement. To put it in perspective: Only 0.2% of +31,000 restaurants Approved by AAA make the Five Diamond list. There are only three Five Diamond restaurants in Florida. It’s a perfect blend of consistent service and food. Stars are more about emotional engagement and service and we are striving for Forbes Five-Star right now! Being Five Diamond and Five-Star is our ultimate goal.
Do you think a Michelin star is next?
I respect the accolade but it’s not for me. My own restaurant will be my next move. The cuisine will be casual and fun!
What is your favorite restaurant in Amelia Island and in Jacksonville?
I like simple and consistent food on my days off. My go to restaurant on Amelia Island is Artes Pizza. I go there almost once a week. Tony the owner is on the line with his team every visit. I’m a big fan of Hovan in Riverside and India’s Restaurant in Baymeadows.
If you’re remotely close to the The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, Salt should be at the top of your list. From the plates, to the highest quality ingredients, the beautiful recently renovated dining room, and topped off with the service and hospitality that only The Ritz-Carlton can provide, it’s an absolute must! 4750 Amelia Island Parkway Amelia Island, 277-1100, www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/florida/amelia-island/dining/salt